Miss Pankratova, you are the very first Russian soprano who sings high-dramatic Wagnerian roles in Bayreuth. How do you feel about it? Does this mean an extra artistic responsibility regarding representing Russia?
I have been fortunate to get in Russia the best possible music education as a pianist, conductor and as a singer. Since I am not covered in my national flag, performing on stage, the only responsibility I have is towards the role I am embodying, so that my voice and acting thoroughly express the idea of the composer. What makes the singing in Bayreuth so unique, is that there are no Subtitles for the audience – in no one language, as in other Theaters – therefore, the first artistic responsibility for every singer, performing here, is to give ten times more text, as in any other theatre of the world! Of cause, to be the first one in any sector of life is an honour, but also the risk to be criticised is exceptionally high. Maybe, I have risked, making my role-debut and Bayreuth-debut at the same time, but have had fantastic international reviews and the best possible recognition of the public, both in 2016 and 2017.
How do you feel about Bayreuth? Would you consider Bayreuth to be the culmination of your career development?
Well, Bayreuth is a truly fantastic place to work in, because you have the best people around you – on and off stage – those conditions you wish to have in every theatre of the world. This legendary festival is one of the best highlights of my career, as well as La Scala, Bavarian State Opera or Covent Garden. But, I hope, not the culmination yet – there are still stages I look forward to, like the Festival in Salzburg, Opéra de Paris, Liceu in Barcelona or MET in New York.
In Bayreuth, you are singing the role of Kundry in “Parsifal”. How do or can you relate to this character? Do you feel a personal connection?
KUNDRY is one of the most complicated and challenging Wagnerian roles for soprano. It is not easy to make this sophisticated woman believable on stage: a woman, who has been suffering for centuries, looking for redemption, travelling between time and space, changing images and roles between servant, mother, seductress and repentant sinner. At the same time, it is fascinating to be able to find the corresponding colours in your voice using the low range of Mezzo-soprano as well as the top notes of high dramatic Soprano, using a lot of velvet Piano as well as gleaming dramatic outbreaks, – what a great challenge and great fun!
From singing technique: which is the major difference/challenge between singing in German, Italian or Russian?
Nowadays we suppose to sing all over the world in original languages, sometime in front of the public, who also understands the language better than us. Therefore, I would never go for the role, if I only can learn it phonetically, without speaking this language fluently, without understanding the subtext of every phrase – it is just not cool anymore!
At the same time, one must work a lot on the exact position/colour of the vowels in the foreign language and to give a lot of consonants, a lot of text, – this I learned early in my career from the fantastic singer Renata Scotto. There are same rules for all the languages. Interesting, but since I always work on the challenging texts of R. Wagner or H. von Hofmannsthal, I began to pronounce more concisely also Italian and Russian texts, though Russian is my mother language!
Sopranos who sing this kind of “first class” repertoire are often considered to be a “Diva”. What is “Diva” for you? Are you a Diva?
A modern “Diva” for me is the one who always comes as the first to the theatre and leaves as the last after the performance. The one, who is best prepared for the role, easy to talk to, always able to learn new ideas from good conductors and stage directors. The one who takes all the necessary time for Autogramms and conversations with fans after the performance, no matter how long and challenging the performance was, – this I learned from my amazing colleague Plácido Domingo. And, first, she is the one, who can touch the hearts of her public with her voice! You can’t name yourself as a Diva anyway – it would be as ridiculous as if the Queen would try to play the Queen by herself – this name your public gives you one day when you even don’t expect so.
What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for upcoming singers these days?
They should sing like Maria Callas, look like Gisele Bündchen and cost nearly nothing – this would be just “ideal” for every casting director. Well, there is a grain of truth in every joke, as we say in Russia. Seriously, a singer nowadays should be very well prepared for the job mentally and vocally. They have to speak at least three international languages; be good actors and learn quickly not only classical but also modern music; find a good agent and have a good health; be ready anytime to travel/fly far away from home. They also have to believe in himself despite setbacks firmly and simply have lots of luck!
You are living quite a Jetset life. How much time is left for personal things? How does the everyday life of Elena Pankratova look like?
Believe me, the daily life of the Elite Opera singer is pretty unspectacular. It requires a lot of discipline and logistic work to be done: you sing, you eat, you sleep, you pack, you drive or fly to the next city/country, where you sing again, you eat, you sleep, you pack, and so on, and so on. All that means, you have to take a good care of yourself or to be responsible for your work. I can imagine that it might sound pretty boring. But the exciting thing about my job is that this way I get to meet talented people, visit fascinating cities, and sometimes there is even the energy and time left to do some good shopping, to visit some museum or a good restaurant, or just relax in the Spa or Sauna. Thank God, my husband, Vitaly Zapryagaev, who is a fantastic voice teacher and an excellent travel manager, is always moving together with me. Otherwise, I would feel very lonely, and there would be hardly any space for family life.
Looking out into the future what and where would you like to be?
I think I have found my place already now: as a singer on the best stages of the world and as a Professor at the University of Arts in Graz (Austria). From one side, I am always getting new experience and inspiration from my colleagues, from the other hand, I can share it with my students. In twenty years or so, it would be nice to live somewhere on the seaside in a house, covered with roses, with an orange garden around, with cats, dogs and free-flying beautiful rainbow parrots.
Are you coming back to sing in Latin America?
I would like to come one day for an Opera production or a concert with orchestra. At the moment, there are no plans in this direction on my agenda.
What was your most memorable experience/performance in this part of the world?
Well, the first time I saw the outstanding hall of Palacio de Bellas Artes was a jaw-dropping moment for me: it is decorated inside in Art Deco style with Tiffany-glass and different coloured marble as in no other theatre of the world!! Also, the acoustics are marvellous. There I sang in 2006 GUTRUNE and the 3rd NORN in the “Götterdämmerung” – it was the first Mexican complete “Ring”-Production ever, – staged by Sergio Vela. In 2012 I returned here as ABIGAILLE in “Nabucco”. Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires also became one of my favourites Theaters: in 2010 I was singing there ALICE in “Falstaff” and 2013 – DYERS WIFE in “Die Frau ohne Schatten”, staged by Andreas Homoki. It was an unforgettable experience, as 3500 people in public gave us standing ovations!!